By Dan Metz
Special to Delaware Business Times
Business ventures in Delaware start with a sit-down and a cup of coffee. First State Fintech Lab (FSFL) hopes to use that model to establish Delaware as a fintech leader in the United States. FSFL is made up entirely of volunteers: fintech experts and enthusiasts focused on building connections and excitement around the financial technology sector through private-public partnerships, education and expanding opportunities.
Now the nonprofit, fresh out of its first year of operation, has announced the creation of a 10-member Advisory Board. The board’s purpose is to bring together diverse minds and talents to help bring about systemic change in Delaware. Its membership includes a Harvard lawyer, former state and federal officials and professionals who have worked for well-known startups like Paypal and Airbnb.
Co-founders Meghan Wallace and John Collins share a background as Delaware state political advisers: Wallace for Jack Markell and Collins for Tom Carper. They met for the first time after Collins published an opinion piece in The News Journal headlined “Make Delaware the Financial Technology Capital: Delaware Voices,” arguing for state support for cutting-edge advances in fintech. “Taking a cue from lessons learned around the globe,” the article reads, “Delaware’s economic development can focus on innovative solutions like RegLabs to utilize government as an enabler and supporter of innovation from the bottom up, rather than the top down.”
The article drew Wallace’s attention, and the two sat down to talk. Soon they were in contact with members of the business community, political actors and other interested parties. Coffee quickly turned into a series of fintech roundtables that Collins and Wallace planned until they realized it was time to formalize their efforts with the creation of FSFL in December 2017. “We are amazingly pleased and impressed,” Collins said, “with the number of people who have come to the table that want to support us.”
With the help of the new advisory board, Collins, Wallace and the rest of the First State Fintech Lab team hope to advance their mission in new ways, including reaching people who might not otherwise have those opportunities. “What we want to do is be able to help support a bit of sharing of the exposure and hopefully help bolster entrepreneurs of all ages regardless of their means and regardless of where they grew up.”
FSFL’s model is collaborative. It doesn’t create independent programs or classes. Instead, it focuses on what Collins calls “good, active conversations,” seeing itself as a third-party independent group bringing together disparate actors and voices in the state to work together on fintech projects and programs that benefit the whole state. “We want to see Delaware succeed,” Collins said, “and we want to see people all across the state take advantage of that.”
FSFL has plenty of those initiatives with partners like the University of Delaware and New Castle County’s Chamber of Commerce. In December 2018, the chamber hosted an all-day Fintech Forum where Collins moderated the panels, including one called “Legislation, Compliance, and Government Regulation,” which included new Advisory Board member Doneene Damon of Richards, Layton and Finger. Other projects include a plan for a speaker series, which Collins hopes will span all three counties and include salons and conversations on innovation in the fintech sector.